When a friend told me how impressed he was after testing the ski boot from Dodge, I had to confess I had never heard of the brand. And it was only after asking around that I realized what kind of reputation David Dodge and Bill Doble have been building, working on a quiet revolution in ski boot technology--and retail distribution--out of a little operation in Essex, Vermont.
Former UVM racers and fraternity brothers, the two also share a long history in the ski industry, with careers that have included long stints at brands such as Rossignol, Burton and Lange. Dodge, the designer and brand namesake, had always been fascinated by the possibilities of carbon fiber composites, particularly in regards to hockey and speed skates. When contracts for a consulting business he had started began to dry up during the recession, he decided to see what he could create by using composites in the production of ski boots.
Doble was the first person he called. “I said let’s do it,” Doble said. “That was on Dec. 1st, 2008. And we had an outline of a business plan five days after that.” Low volume, low overhead and “without a lot of people,” were the mantras, Doble said, “so that way we can do it without a lot of bullshit.”
The pair raised money from friends and a family member, including one friend who had just sold his own business, and wanted to invest somewhere other than the struggling stock market. The company name, Perfect Storm Sport Technology, reflected the state of the economy at the time, and the ski industry as well.
According to Dodge, a rapid evolution in materials, tools and machines, meant that he could manufacture molds at a fraction of what big brand boot makers pay in the injection molded process. “We can build a set of molds for one size for less than $10,000,” Dodge said, “while the cost for a traditional set of molds is going to be $250,000 and up.” There are six sizes on offer, at a base price of $1,500 per pair, and Dodge said he’s forecasting for sales of from 300 to 500 pair this fall.
With a high-end customer, primarily made up of racers or former racers, Dodge is catering to a market of early adopters who want a technological advantage, or who want to always have the coolest new toy on the slopes. The company compares the Dodge boot to race plug boots on its website, but Dodge and Doble stress it’s for all-mountain skiers as well. It is the stiffness and performance of the Dodge that have been far and away the boot’s top selling points. And strong sales, with no marketing or ad budget, are occurring as a result of word of mouth.
“Let’s face it, at $1,500 it’s not a boot for everyone,” Doble said. “It’s for people who want something different and who want to be that far ahead of the curve. What’s been exciting is the amount of referrals we get, and how many people get on the boot, then go tell five friends.”
Dodge said they are working with about one dozen retailers in the U.S., including well-known bootfitters such as Harald Harb at Harb Ski Systems in Dumont, Colo., and Jim Schaffner at the Truckee, Calif.-based Start Haus. While the growth of retail and direct purchases, which Dodge ships to one of their authorized bootfitters for pickup, is key to the grassroots growth strategy, the pair would also like to talk to one of the bigger brands about possibly partnering up.
“Our goal right here is always to keep working to make the best in the world,” Doble said. “But that doesn’t mean that the way we do that wouldn’t also be very applicable and very desirable for a larger outfit.”
Dodge said his perfect scenario would be to license the technology to a major brand, while also allowing Dodge and Doble to keep running their targeted end of the business. Doble said they have also had “some good inquiries from outside the U.S.”
The start-up costs are attractive, he said, as is the ability to manufacture in a small space. “You could actually set up a production cell somewhere else, close to its main market,” he said. “We are open to licensing the proprietary production process to other boot makers, or to someone who wants to get into the boot business.”
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